COLUMBIA — President Donald Trump is coming to a historically black college in Columbia next week for a bipartisan forum on criminal justice reform, the White House confirmed Friday.
The president will deliver the keynote speech on Oct. 25 for the forum at Benedict College, sponsored by the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, said a White House official.
Trump is coming to the same three-day event that is drawing top 2020 Democratic candidates trying to replace him.
Those expected to attend Saturday include former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Kamala Harris of California; and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is expected on the forum's final day on Sunday.
They have been asked to discuss their criminal justice platforms.
According to the forum's website, each presidential candidate will get 10 minutes to present their platform. Following each pitch, there will be 40 minutes dedicated to questions from the audience and the moderator. The forum will be live-streamed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center hosted its first presidential forum in 2015 at Allen University, a historically black college next door to Benedict, with Sanders and now-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
"We are excited for our students who will witness, first-hand, this historical bipartisan engagement," said Benedict College President Roslyn Artis, whose statement issued soon after news broke of Trump's participation did not mention the president. The forum "will serve as tangible evidence for our students of how diversity of thought and positive social action work together in the democracy of our country."
"Most important, Columbia and Benedict College are positioned at the epicenter of the 2020 presidential campaign engagements."
Republican S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster is looking forward to welcoming the president again. Trump stumped for McMaster in West Columbia ahead of a June 2018 primary runoff.
"Any time President Trump comes to South Carolina and we have an opportunity to showcase all that our great state has to offer, it's a great day for the people of South Carolina," said McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes.
The visit will be Trump’s fourth to South Carolina as president in the state where he defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 300,000 votes.
It comes 10 months after Trump signed a criminal justice measure known as the First Step Act, which gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders, eases mandatory minimum sentences and encourages inmates to participate in programs designed to reduce the risk of recidivism, with credits that can be used to gain an earlier release.
In July, U.S. Attorney General William Barr visited a federal prison in Edgefield to get a firsthand look at some of the programs in place, from computer skills to cooking, auto mechanic training and factory work. Some of the inmates he met with will be released early under the overhaul, which Trump has touted as a rare bipartisan effort to address concerns that too many Americans were imprisoned for nonviolent crimes as a result of the drug war.
The 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center was founded in 2015 with 20 black Republicans and 20 black Democrats and now counts 80 black mayors, local and state government officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community activists and police chiefs.
Ashley Bell, founder and chief executive of the bipartisan center, was named a policy adviser on entrepreneurship and innovation in the White House this week. He is working in the Office of American Innovation run by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Bell also is Southeastern regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Artis, Benedict's first female president, sits on the center's senior advisory committee.
The private Columbia college of 2,150 students has hosted a president before. President Barack Obama visited the school in March 2015.
Trump toured cities and towns in the Pee Dee region in September 2018 that were damaged by Hurricane Florence. He also spoke at a February 2017 event celebrating Boeing’s latest version of the 787 Dreamliner jet at the aircraft maker’s North Charleston plant.
Trump has lodged attacks against his Democratic opponents in tweets, in unscripted insults at his Make America Great Again rallies, and, most recently, through $1 million worth of anti-Biden TV ads airing in the four early primary states, including South Carolina.
Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Sanford said he was unaware if he had been invited to participate in the upcoming criminal justice forum. He is currently taking his presidential campaign message on a cross-country road trip, which will wrap up in California on Wednesday.
Caitlin Byrd and The Associated Press contributed to this report.